~ John 21:1-19/Psalm 30 ~
In the mid-90’s Linda and I bought a fixer-upper. Oh, it had good bones, a solid, two-story brick house called a “Denver Square.” But it was in sad shape. Nothing had been done to the kitchen in 50 years except to paint it yellow – everything was painted a garish yellow including the pencil sharpener on the wall. It had been broken up into apartments so the front entry had an ugly, make-shift door going into the living room. The same at the top of the stairs. Everything had been painted, many times over. Faded white paint covered everything – the doorways, the stairs, the fireplace mantel – everything.
Our realtor-friend was reluctant to pursue the sale. He didn’t want to be a party to a marriage breakup. Our still-in-high-school daughter refused to move in with us, choosing instead to live with a friend. But Linda and I figured we could make it work (we did get it for a good price, after all).
You see, in my mind’s eye I could envision a house restored to its former glory. Behind all the paint I could see the oak wood doorways and the trim and the floorboards and the fireplace mantel – especially the mantel, with its interesting filigree and miniature columns with Corinthian capitals. I saw the ugly, 50-year old kitchen and envisioned a state-of-the-art kitchen worthy of our culinary skills. I figured it would take me a couple of months to rebuild the kitchen. OK, it took me two years but it was worth it.
Indeed, the entire restoration project was well worth it, despite the fact that it took me four years to complete it. Did I mention that we actually lived in the house the entire time? Linda was incredibly patient – and we’re still together. I have to say it was one of the most gratifying experiences of my life – to take a run-down, sad-looking fixer-upper and restore it to something of its former glory. So gratifying, in fact, that I brought some pictures. They’re in the back. And then we sold it and moved away, but that’s another story.
In a very similar way, we all, spiritually speaking, are fixer-uppers. God sees us in our dilapidated condition, our broken-down and neglected state, our sad-looking lives, whether it be from years of getting worn down or from a dramatic or tragic turn of events that has left us scarred – God sees all that and sees through it. God can envision a person, you and me, no matter our condition, and sees a beautifully restored creation, even a re-creation, if you will. Restoration! That is what God enjoys doing.
Restoration is the theme of our biblical texts this morning. Consider our psalm.
“God, you pulled me out of the grave, gave me another chance at life when I was down-and-out.” Restoration!
“God, my God, I yelled for help and you put me together.” Restoration!
The Psalmist sings praises to God because he has been taken out of the Pit and has been set on a strong mountain. This is a psalm of restoration. The Psalmist David is down and out but by God’s power he has been restored. And so David dances, where before he was mourning. Instead of sackcloth he is now clothed with joy. And as a result David will praise God forever!
Restoration—the psalmist makes it sound so easy. I cried out, God heard me, and, voila! I’m restored. But restoration does not come so easily. Certainly words like “hell” and “Pit” indicate being way down. From down in the Pit restoration seems quite daunting. Looks impossible. The fact is restoration is never easy; it is always a difficult struggle.
I would venture to guess that all of us, one time or another, has been in the pits, spiritually speaking. Maybe some of you are there now. Maybe a spiritual depression, a malaise if you will, characterizes your life. Maybe some of you would say you’ve been in the pits for a long time and can see no way out. Maybe you are stuck and can’t find a way to get unstuck. And so you are discouraged and frustrated. Oh, you might not show it. We all get pretty adept at hiding our spiritual pittedness (a new word!). Some are better than others in that regard.
But there is a way out of the Pit. Healing is offered. Restoration is possible! God stands ready to restore us, full of mercy and love and power. Even if we have messed up—sinned, if you will—God’s anger, says the psalmist, only lasts a moment, but God’s favor lasts a lifetime. It is possible.
Spiritual restoration is not an easy, instantaneous happening. It comes with struggle and delays and frustration and discouragement. It mostly likely will call for large amounts of patience and persistence and determination to see it through. And it calls for keeping our eyes on the goal despite the messiness and struggle of the process. And it calls for trust. Trust in God. God, who is completely trustworthy, is the ultimate restorer and will see us through the struggle. Trust is a risk but it is the only way out.
Restoration ultimately hinges on forgiveness. That is the story behind Jesus’ encounter with Peter on that Galilee shoreline early in the morning. If anyone has experienced being in the pits it is Peter. Despite emotional protestations against the idea, Peter had denied Jesus in a most despicable kind of way. He denied he ever knew Jesus. If anyone was in need of restoration it was Peter. So Jesus takes a walk along the shore as the sun rises over the hillside and asked him three times: Do you love me? And each time Peter responded with “You know I do.” Jesus gives him a job to do: “Feed my sheep.” Jesus is doing the work of restoration by forgiving Peter. Forgiveness is the key. It was very possible that Peter could have walked away from the offer of forgiveness by Jesus. He could have said “I don’t deserve to be forgiven” and that would be that. But Jesus, I don’t think, would have let Peter go easily. Jesus, after all, cared very much for Peter’s personal restoration. And so does God care very much about our restoration.
I saw a movie several years ago about restoration. It was about rebuilding a life of disappointment and regret and broken relationships using the rebuilding of a house as the working metaphor. Called “Life as a House” it was all about restoration, restoring a house and restoring a life.
Kevin Kline is George, who is divorced, is completely alienated from his equally messed up son, has just lost his architecture job of twenty years, and, as he says, “hasn’t been happy in ten years.” What’s more his house, which sits at the top of a cliff overlooking the sea, is a shack. It is literally falling apart. He has been planning to rebuild it for years, in fact, he has assembled most of the material, gotten the required permits, but he just doesn’t have the will to start the project, much to the dismay of his upper-income neighbors. He truly doesn’t care. He really is a mess. But one day he collapses on the sidewalk and the subsequent medical exam reveals he has cancer; quite advanced. He will probably die within four months. As he lies in the hospital bed he wonders what he can do for the remaining months of his life. He decides he can finish his life-long dream; he can rebuild his house. The nurse asks him, “Can you build a house in four months?” “I can die trying,” he says. “Good for you,” she says as she wipes his brow. With that and without telling anyone of his condition, he convinces his son (Hayden Christiansen before he did Star Wars) to spend the summer with him rebuilding the house. In the process he finds reconciliation with broken relationships and creates a new vigor for life.
George found the crisis of impending death an opportunity to seriously reassess his life. And he was able to restore much of his wasted life. He was able to reconcile himself with those he had alienated. Restoration. As he said, “I always thought of myself as a house. I was always what I lived in. It didn’t need to be big. It didn’t need to be beautiful. It just needed to be mine. I became what I was meant to be. I built myself a life. I built myself a house.” Although, I would add, he didn’t build it by himself. God was always working in the background, beneath the surface, maybe under the floor boards or in the walls, helping that restoration process along.
The working metaphor of the story is that we live in the house that is our life. We might very well be quite comfortable living in that house – it is, after all, where we live. Or we might not be comfortable at all living there due to the history of our life, with its disappointments and regrets. Whatever our state, God’s desire is to restore us to be all that we can be, to be restored to the beautiful and useful house that is our life.
There is a southern Appalachian hymn from the 19th century that speaks of restoration. It’s a revival song—a bona fide camp-meeting invitation song to get sinners to walk the aisle and get saved. But I don’t want us to sing it with that in mind. I want us to sing it as a song of restoration. If we think of it not as an invitation hymn to get saved but as an invitation to spiritual restoration and if we realize that we are all indeed ‘sinners’ then I think it can apply to us. It speaks to our need for restoration and it speaks quite powerfully to God’s desire to restore us.
Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
full of pity, love and pow’r.
I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O, there are ten thousand charms.